Former Union minister and Congress’s Mumbai poll strategy chief Milind Deora believes the Congress has the right product but needs better branding. He speaks on the party’s plans, the Sena-BJP war and more.
Why should people vote for the Congress?
The Shiv Sena and the BJP have been in power (in the Mumbai municipality) for two decades and there is little to show for it. The Sena speaks of the Marathi manoos, but the biggest hit are the Marathi medium schools. The state of hospitals is pathetic. Water supply and sanitation have remained a pipe dream. Every monsoon you see massive potholes. Delhi gets torrential rains too, but we do not see such potholes there. There’s zero accountability. We need a fresh outlook. We need change. The Congress had been in power in the state for 15 years. While we may not have fulfilled all our promises to the city, a lot was accomplished in terms of public infrastructure, transportation and affordable housing etc.
Do you then concede that the Congress has failed in its role as the principal opposition in the BMC?
The municipality needs deeper structural reforms, which go beyond a party A or a party B. The time has come when Mumbai should get a directly elected and empowered mayor. The mayor’s post will then have power. At present, it is the civic commissioner, who reports to the CM, who enjoys power. This has convoluted the city’s politics and messed up governance. A directly elected mayor will usher in more accountability.
Factionalism in the Congress has intensified in the election season. Has this marred poll plans?
There is factionalism and there are differences. Even I don’t agree with Sanjay Nirupam on several issues. But I was asked by Mr Gandhi (Rahul Gandhi) more than once to throw my weight behind Nirupam and make his presidentship a success, which is why I have been supportive of him. I’ve even got Eknath Gaikwad, Priya Dutt and others to join me. While there is no harm in having a difference of opinion or even ideological disputes with someone, it is important to show restraint and come together for the party’s sake in an election season.
What do you make of the Shiv Sena-BJP war? How does it impact the Congress?
Personally, I believe the entire drama between them is a sham. While they are hitting out at each other, they continue to share power in the state and the Centre. The BJP says the Sena doesn’t believe in transparency. The Sena calls the BJP something else. So desperate is the Sena that it is even praising the Congress. Tomorrow, the BJP may praise the NCP. You would think the first thing both would do is to break off alliances in the state and the Centre. Their criticism of one another is a diversion to distract voters from their misrule.
BJP accuses the Sena of match-fixing with the Congress. Uddhav Thackeray heaps praises on the Congress. What’s going on?
These are smart strategies to distract the voter. But I feel the voter will see through this. On Uddhav Thackeray’s praise for the Congress, I’m glad that his eyes have opened up finally. But I only wish I could say the same for the Sena-BJP rule in the BMC. Unfortunately, I can’t.
Gurudas Kamat says Nirupam hasn’t done anything to win the election for the Congress. Your response?
To be fair to Nirupam, he has tried to consult every leader in the last few months. If Gurudas Kamat felt he wasn’t being consulted, he should have penned his views and sent them to Nirupam. There is no point crying over spilt milk now. He can still share his suggestions. For me, Mr Gandhi’s mandate was clear that Nirupam was his candidate and that we must support him.
Kamat has also questioned your contribution as the poll strategy chief.
There are many things I can say on the record but in the party’s interest I have chosen to speak internally and not to the media. And one would expect a senior leader like him to do the same.
Your party hasn’t yet recovered from the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha poll defeats. How does the party rebuild and recapture the imagination of the voters?
The Congress is going through a difficult phase. But things are looking good for us in the upcoming five state elections. A few wins will restore voter confidence and have a cascading effect. We are trying our hardest to present a credible counter narrative to the (Narendra) Modi government. But we need to do much more. We have the right product but what we need is better branding. I must tell you that a lot many among those who voted for Modi in 2014 now feel disillusioned. I’m confident that the Congress will go into the 2019 elections with a very different brand about itself and Rahul Gandhi, and with a very different perception about Modi.